Journal of Religion and Health

, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 287–297 | Cite as

The recovery of feelings in a folktale

  • Louis Agosta


The purpose of this essay is to explore the “symptom” of the denial of feelings and the subsequent recovery of feelings in relation to the task of uniting the human self. The spiritual, emotional, and physical implications of an exemplary narrative from the collection edited by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm are discussed in relation to the “telescoping” of the emotion of fear, the sensation of shuddering, and the experience of anxiety about the integrity of the self. The reader is cautioned that the study of folktales enriches our telling of them and is itself justified by that telling.


Subsequent Recovery Physical Implication Exemplary Narrative 
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  1. 1.
    The self is defined as the ensemble of emotional, volitional, and intellectual functions encompassing both the mind and heart, the spirit and body. However, the purpose of this essay is to explore the representations in the folktale of denied and recovered feelings. The existence and efficacy of the self are presumed.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    In terms of the classical definition of the folktale (see V. Propp,Morphology of the Folktale, trans. L. Scott. Austin, University of Texas, 1968), the action is motivated by the hero's perception that he “lacks” something (he doesn't know what it is to shudder). There is a violation of an interdiction, which leads to the hero's exile. (He assaults one of his elders due to a misunderstanding.) No villain makes an appearance, though the hero's “delinquent” behavior permits us to label him as the villain in this particular moment, at least in the sense that he is his “own worst enemy.”Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Blake, W., “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,”The Portable Blake. New York, The Viking Press, 1971, pp. 249–266.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Freud, A., “Intellectualization at Puberty,”The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense, trans. C. Baines. InThe Writings of Anna Freud, vol. 2. New York, International Universities Press, 1966, p. 158.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    cit., p. 34. In presenting himself as an initiate, a candidate to spend three nights in the castle, the youth pleased the presiding king so that the latter granted him permission to take three inanimate objects with him into the castle. The youth's reply reveals his practicality: “Then I ask for a fire, a turning lathe, and a cutting board with a knife,”-things useful in an emergency,op. cit., p. 33.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    op. cit., p. 101.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Eliade, M.Shamanism, trans. W.R. Trask. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1972, pp. 34, 36, 49, 53, 66, 108,130.I am maintaining that this folktale, which, after all, is a secular, not an overtly sacred document alludes to, echoes, the “initiatory dream” of the shaman, but does not explicitly reenact it. Eliade, referring to the initiation proper, writes: “... The candidate witnesses the dismemberment of his own body by the ancestral or evil spirits. But then his bones are put together again and fastened with iron, his flesh is renewed, and, on returning to life, the future shaman has a ‘new body’...” (ibid., p. 42).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    op. cit., pp. 37–38.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    A rich literature is available on the old spirit in folktales. See Jung, C.G. “The Phenomenology of the Spirit in Fairy Tales,”Four Archetypes, trans. R.F.C. Hull. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1970, pp. 83–132. Jung writes that the tale “makes it clear that it is possible for a man to attain totality, to become whole, only with the cooperation of the spirit of darkness, indeed that the latter is actually thecausa Instrumentalis of redemption and individuation.... The fairytale tells us how to proceed if we want to overcome the power of darkness: we must turn his own weapons against him...” (ibid., pp. 129–30). That is in effect what the hero does as he beats the old spirit at his own game by catching his beard in the two anvil halves.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    op. cit., p. 39.Google Scholar

Further related readings

  1. 11.
    Bettelheim, B.,The Uses of Enchantment. New York, Knopf, 1976.Google Scholar
  2. 12.
    Eliade, M., “Myths and Fairy Tales,”Myth and Reality. New York, Harper and Row, 1963, pp. 195–202.Google Scholar
  3. 13.
    Freud, S., “The Occurrence in Dreams of Material From Fairy-Tales,”Character and Culture, P. Rieff, ed. New York, Collier Books, 1972, pp. 59–66.Google Scholar
  4. 14.
    Grimm, J., and Grimm, W. (eds.),Anmerkungen zu den Kinder- und Hausm″archen der Br″uder Grimm, revised by J. Bolte and Georg Polivka, vol. 1. Leipzig, Theodor Weicher Publishing, 1913.Google Scholar
  5. 15.
    Laiblin, W., “Symbolik der Wandlung im M″archen,”M″archenforschung und Tiefenpsychologie, W. Laiblin, ed. Darmstadt, Scientific Book Publishers, 1969, pp. 345–374.Google Scholar
  6. 16.
    Levi-Strauss, C., “Structure and Form: Reflections on a Work by Vladimir Propp,”Structural Anthropology, vol. 2, trans. M. Layton. New York, Basic Books, 1976, pp. 115–145.Google Scholar
  7. 17.
    von Franz, M.L.,An Introduction to the Interpretation of Fairy Tales. New York, Spring Publication, 1970.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Institutes of Religion and Health 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Louis Agosta
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.DePaul University of Chicago
  2. 2.Loyola University of Chicago

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